The Treasure Hunters
Review by Keith Robinson (August 17, 2006)
When Jeffery, Susan and John are told that their mother and father are going away for a few weeks, because their mother is feeling under the weather and needs some "strong sea-air," the children find themselves shipped off to Granny and Granpa's. But it's all good news. Jeffery, the eldest of the three children, remembers the old house well—he says it's the sort of place all kinds of things have happened, and "anything might still happen." Susan has been there too, but hardly remembers it, while John, the youngest, has never been there at all. And so, with very little fuss, the children are packed up and ready to go.
They are dropped off by their parents at Greylings Manor, an old, old house that's belonged to the family for three hundred years. Sweeping in through the gates, where stone eagles perch on the gate-posts, they cruise up a winding drive to the manor house, which is described as long and rather low, with very tall chimneys and leaded windows, and a courtyard at the front "in which walked some fantail pigeons." The children are to stay in two small rooms in the roof, the first of which has crooked walls and beams and an uneven floor. Susan's room is the best though. She finds a small door in the corner of Jeffery and John's room, and this door is so low it only comes up to her shoulder. She stoops and goes through to a tiny room beyond, a room that is almost round, with a ceiling that slopes down to the floor on one side. Two tiny windows let in the sunlight. "It's simply lovely!" exclaims Susan, thinking that it's like a doll's room.
That's not all. If these rooms aren't exciting enough, it turns out that the house has three staircases, one of which is most mysterious—it starts from a door in the dining room and leads up behind the wall into the children's rooms, entering Susan's unexpectedly from a cupboard! This is the sort of house ALL adventurous children should live in.
The house has plenty of history, and Granny—looking pretty upset one day—reveals how the family has lost its money over years. The house is be sold to strangers, and this is to be children's last visit to the old place. "The family has been unlucky," explains Granny. "First, the Greylings Treasure was lost." She goes on to tell of some treasure given to the family two hundred and fifty years ago; the adventurous Hugh Greyling had done a good turn for a prince in India, and in return had received the treasure as a wonderful gift. "Strings of pearls, diamonds set in marvellous metals, a gold cup studded with rubies and saphires..." The treasure was brought home, but later, during a civil war, Jeffery Greyling took the treasure away and hid it for fear of it falling into enemy hands. Jeffery Greyling then disappeared—and the treasure was never seen again. Did he hide it safely? Or did the enemy steal it?
Thus the story is set, and the children decide to do some exploring. "It's the most exciting story I've ever heard," Susan says. "I feel as if I must go hunting for the lost Treasure straight away!" Convinced the treasure might be hidden within the Greylings estate, Susan resolves to find it. The boys don't take her very seriously, but go along with her on the basis that exploring is always fun! So they set about tapping walls and poking into cubby holes until they're all filthy dirty. Granny turns them out of the house, and they head for the woods, taking along Granny and Granpa's dog, Rags, who—like many dogs in Blyton's stories—comes in very useful later.
It's here, in chapter three, that they find something. Following a stream that gurgles through the thick woods, they come across a small pond—and discover it has marble steps leading down beneath the surface! They decide it must be part of an old summer-house or boating-house. And, on searching a bit further, they find an old building completely engulfed in ivy, brambles, and honeysuckle.
Here we have shades of The Boy Next Door (when they find an old riverboat). Nothing is more exciting for children than finding some old place that they can clean up and call their own. First, though, they need to cut through the thick ivy roots, and for that they borrow the gardener's axe. A few chapters are spent getting into the old summer-house and cleaning it up; but this place isn't some rickety wooden structure—it's made of brick, and has a fireplace and marble floor. Grand indeed, and lost for so long!
The children finally bring a picnic along one day, and a kettle for tea, a sort of "dry-run" for when they bring their Granny and Granpa. They get the fire going, and rub their hands in delight. But something is blocking up the chimney, and the smoke backs up and half-chokes them. What a disaster! When the smoke finally clears, and Jeffery pokes around in the chimney, he finds the cause of the blockage—a birds' nest. But there's something else up the chimney, poking out of a small hidey-hole—a strange iron box with a stiff clasp on the front. The children force the lock and find... nothing! But Susan notices thatthe box seems oddly small inside considering its overall size, and with a bit more investigation they find a secret space containing what looks like a map!
The map is in two halves, and contains a single word: J-r-e-a-f... "Jr—eaf—" says Jeffery, feeling distinctly puzzled. "It must be some kind of foreign language." The children decide to ask someone who can read old writing, and off they go back home with the valuable map. Enter Mr Potts, or Mr Pots-of-Money as the children call him, for this is the man who is in the process of buying Greylings Manor. He seems an amiable chap, and has a huge house of his own, with a lake. But in this story he's "the enemy," and when Susan blurts out that they've found a map, the man pricks up his ears at once and offers to help decipher the map.
Of the course the children don't want his help, but the man is too quick for them and spots the map lying on the table. Jeffery has had time to snatch away one half of the map, so Mr Potts only sees one part—luckily the half with the least detail. The man translates "J-r-e-a-f" as "T-r-e-a-s" (the "T" has a curl at the bottom, and in the old days an "s" was written like a "f"). Naturally the word reads "Treasure," and it's all very interesting indeed. Mr Potts offers to take the half-map away for further analysis, and unfortunately Granny and Granpa seem a little bit thick and gullible and have no objection to this. Here we have a man about to buy the house from them, who is now discovering a map of the grounds with the word "treasure" marked on it! Come on, Granny and Granpa, wake up! But Mr Potts, amiable and polite as ever, takes the map away and promises to return it.
Luckily Jeffery and the others aren't so stupid, and they keep the second half of the map tucked safely away. Much of the book follows a treasure hunt using both halves of the map, while making a false tracing in case Mr Pots-of-Money happens across it—which he does, quite cleverly, and sets off with his own little treasure hunt using a muddled map. The book is very well paced, one of the few I've read that gets going early on and maintains a steady pace to the end. It's not giving anything away to reveal that the children find the treasure in the end, and outwit Mr Pots. It's a predictable plot, but lots of fun, and is certainly better than many of the Famous Five treasure hunts.
I thought that John, for the most part, was a surplus character. Jeffery and Susan have strong voices throughout, being very different from one another, but often John's lines seemed to get lost in the text; I'd attribute most of them to Jeffery, and then wonder why Jeffery was replying, forcing me to jump back and realize it was actually John who had just spoken. Enid Blyton liked to have groups of children, usually three or more, but this is one where Jeffery and Susan alone would have been just fine.
Mr Potts reminded me a lot of Mr Eppy in The Ship of Adventure. In both books, Potts and Eppy try to take the map from the children, making me mad! How dare they! But this is the same frustration felt by the children; adults always seem to get their way, and children must not answer back to them, or else. Mr Potts asked a lot of direct questions, and the children, completely unable to tell an untruth, either evade the question or look for a distraction—or, in Jeffery's case, simply scuttle from the room. It amuses me how it's "just not right" to lie, but it's perfectly acceptable to disappear in the middle of a conversation.
Like many adventurous children, Jeffery keeps all manner of things in his pockets—a pencil, noteboook, stub of candle, matches, string... I've always found it a little odd how these things get switched from pocket to pocket depending on what they're wearing that day. Unless the things are kept in an overcoat, but it's never really explained at length. But something did bother me, and that was the map. Mr Potts only saw one half of it, and kept asking if the children had seen the second half anywhere. In the end Jeffery makes a tracing and stores the original in a safe place.
They then take the tracing about with them on their treasure hunting. It occurs to them later that Mr Potts might well demand to search their pockets, so they make a second tracing—and this is the false map. They burn the original tracing, having memorized it all. And yet later, after Mr Potts gets his hands on the false map, Susan says to Jeffery, "It's a good thing you didn't have the proper tracing in your pocket." Apparently the children had forgotten they'd already burnt the "proper tracing." And what exactly is on the half of the map that Mr Potts originally saw? A great deal is made of the fact that he's only seen one half, but it's never explained exactly what's on that part. Oddly, the illustrator for this book, Barbara Freeman, makes more sense of it that the author herself, with an excellent drawing of the map (see above).
But aside from that and a couple of other minor continuity niggles, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, one of my favorite one-offs so far.
The Treasure HuntersReview by Harikrishnan Menon (August 17, 2006)
I read this book very recently, and I agree it's a very good standalone book. It's a better read than some of the later Famous Fives. It could even be successfully adapted as a Secret or Adventure book. How about The Secret of Greylings Manor? (I'd have suggested The Woods of Adventure but I believe that's been used for a TV adaptation.)
If it were to be adapted as a Famous Five book, the matter's easily resolved—we could call it Five Have a Fantabulous Holiday or something equally noncommittal!
The Treasure Hunters has managed to capture the right atmosphere. The discovery of the small abandoned house, and subsequently the map, are both realistic and plausible. But the excavations towards the end sounded wildly optimistic—the children use spades and forks. After all those decades of lying buried, nothing less than a bulldozer and power drills could get you past those massive stones. But such niggling details have never stopped Blyton.
I'm fascinated by maps, so any story that features one is immediately attractive. This one has a decent map, though I found the kids a bit stupid for not guessing the "path" with four bends was actually the stream they had seen in the woods. It was obvious without looking at the map! I didn't like the silly way they gave Mr Potts a chance to see the map—but then it also created a powerful villain and a more exciting climax.
Also, the knotty aspects of "truthfulness" and "telling tales" were a little too moralistic for me. As a child I'd have cheerfully lied to someone like Mr Potts (whom I didn't like or care for), and told him bluntly I hadn't found or hidden any old map. I expect most children will feel the same way, but Blyton probably felt she shouldn't send the wrong signals to an impressionable captive audience.
I was also surprised by their choice of hiding place for the treasure when chased by Potts and co. Surely, it would have been safer indoors. But then they can't (truthfully) tell him they don't have the loot. Dang these high morals—anyone so goody-goody in school would probably have his knickers shredded. And that's from his friends.
I agree the grandparents come across as charming and lovable, but I also found them rigid and ineffectual. However, that could be a reflection of their age (in more ways than one). In the illustration at the beginning of Chapter 2 (see above), Granny resembles an unamused Queen Victoria. Also, her cop-out when it came to handing the treasure map to Mr Potts seems more like idiocy than good manners.
The book does have overtones of other stories, mostly because "map" and "treasure" are hardly novel plot devices for Blyton. The map-in-the-old-box does remind one of Five Go Adventuring Again, and this is reinforced by the farmhouse belonging to Greylings Manor—it even has a jolly couple like the Sanders at Kirrin Farm. The river winding through the wood reminds me of Rockingdown Mystery. And so on.
There's remarkable equality between the sexes, except for those instances where Susan does the housework and cleaning "because she's the girl". But Jeffery and John do help, and contribute a fair share. By the way, my edition spells the name as "Jeffery" rather than the more usual "Jeffrey". And it's Granpa, not Grandpa. I wonder why.
Did grandpas in those days actually wear formal suits for casual rambles around the farm? I expect they did. Ah, but anyone who takes along a priceless jewel-encrusted cup to drink iced ginger-beer from at the village shop must surely be a little eccentric.